The Oilers prospect pool is finally underway (save for John McCarron) for this season and there are some outstanding performances around the globe. Some of these players could be in the NHL by spring.
The conversation starts with the amazing Greg Chase (11, 10-7-17) who sits just outside the WHL’s top 10 in scoring early in the year. The agitating center has been an offensive factor in almost every game and has vaulted up the Oilers prospect list. His style fits a team need, and the fact that he plays center is another positive. He’s a couple of years away. Just behind him in the WHL scoring race is 19-year old Mitchell Moroz (12, 11-5-16) who sits in 4th place in goals scored in the dub. The selection of Moroz was much maligned on draft day, mostly because it represented another potential "Coke Machine" draft–Oilers have spent a lot of draft gold in search of a powerforward without a lot of success since 2000–but Moroz has established this season that he can in fact cash when playing with skill. My guess is that he ends up being a physical winger who plays on the 3 or 4line if and when he arrives in the NHL, but this season is extremely encouraging. Mitchell Moroz is going to post a very big number in his final junior season.
Darnell Nurse (9, 1-8-9) is among the OHL’s top scoring defensemen, but that’s not even half of what he brings to the game. The big, tough, physical, mobile, intelligent 2-way defender is having an impact year as captain of the Soo Greyhounds. Remember when we spoke in the summer about Nurse adding PP time to his resume, and how that would improve his boxcars? Well, he’s already at a point-per-game and as expected the 5×4 time (9, 1-4-5) is a big part of his season.
Dillon Simpson (4, 0-1-1) appears to be on his way to an outstanding future for the Edmonton Oilers, and has travelled many miles as a player since his draft day. When he was selected, there were questions about Simpson as a prospect, mostly around strength and footspeed. Simpson has worked very hard on his weaknesses in the years since he was draft (2011, 4th round) and has passed many players taken ahead of him because of it. His footspeed, mobility and strength are no longer a question, and as captain of UND this season he’s taken on a leadership role. Coach Dave Hakstol: "He’s only 20 years old, we have freshmen older than him. But it’s really not about the date on your birth certificate, it’s about your level of maturity and your life experiences, your mindset and your ability to be consistent and accountable and do things the right way. I think Dillon is at the highest level of those areas." I believe Simpson is going to pass a lot of defensemen on the Oiler depth chart as soon as he turns pro, and wouldn’t be surprised to see him push for NHL employment in the months after turning pro.
Jujhar Khaira (8, 3-2-5) plays for a button down WHL coach (Kevin Contstantine) and in a defensive system, but has shown well across the board so far this season. He’s been impacted this weekend by injury, but has been observed playing well in a 2-way role and provided a physical presence. Khaira’s a big center (6.04, 215, just turned 19) and would fit a need for the Oilers if he continues to develop as a center.
Bogdan Yakimov (16, 2-4-6) is making the huge step up to KHL play this year and doing very well. He has played some center and spent time on the 2line, but appears to be getting 3line minutes for Neftekhimik this season. At 6.05, 202, he’s another giant on the way–and it’s important to remember he’s in what is generally described as being the second best league on the planet at age 19.
Tyler Pitlick (7, 1-2-3) has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness since turning pro in the fall of 2011. This fall, he’s followed up a strong training camp with the big club by making himself a big part of the Barons. Pitlick has played center, scored a shorthanded goal and most recently (this weekend) has been running wild on the top Barons line (with Linus Omark and Anton Lander) posting some crooked numbers on the scoreboard. For really the first time since turning pro, Pitlick is a legit callup option (as described by Jonathan Willis in this article).
Anton Lander (6, 2-3-5) has plenty of NHL experience but there’s little doubt he was rushed to the show early. Lander’s play in OKC since last spring (in his last 22 AHL games, Lander is 13-10-23) has been impressive, and despite being sent down from main camp at a time when centermen were in short supply the next recall will be well earned. That’s an important distinction.
Oscar Klefbom (6, 0-1-1) is finding his way and gaining confidence at the AHL level now, and despite the fact Edmonton has a lot of one-way deals in front of him it’s a good guess the Swede will make his NHL debut sometime this season. His main assets are exceptional speed, intelligent movement of the puck and reading plays–all of which will be welcome when he arrives in the NHL.
(Klefbom photo by Rob Ferguson, Chase photo by Lisa McRitche. All rights reserved).
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Stu MacGregor draft era (2008 and counting) has taken a lot of heat for not delivering on picks beyond #1 overall selections (Jordan Eberle gets forgotten about during the discussion). However, there’s a long and impressive list of players who look like they’re on their way. 2009 (Lander), 2010 (Pitlick, Marincin) and 2011 (Klefbom, Musil, Simpson, Gernat) have some nice arrows and at some point will break through.
The question: does it happen for any of them this season?